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McAllister v. District of Columbia

January 26, 1995

ALEJANDRO S. MCALLISTER, APPELLANT
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Steffen W. Graae, Trial Judge)

Before Steadman and King, Associate Judges, and Gallagher, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: King

KING, Associate Judge: This appeal challenges the granting of a summary judgment motion against Alejandro S. McAllister, who was seeking damages stemming from a mistaken entry on a Judgment and Commitment Order ("Order") made by the courtroom clerk and signed by the sentencing Judge, that resulted in his being imprisoned, after a criminal conviction, for a period of time far in excess of the maximum term permitted for that offense. In this action against the District of Columbia ("District"), McAllister alleged theories of negligence and false imprisonment on the part of the sentencing Judge, the courtroom clerk, the Legal Assistance Branch of the Superior Court, and the Department of Corrections, and sought judgment against the District on the basis of respondeat superior. McAllister also sought judgment against the District for unjust imprisonment under the provisions of D.C. Code § 1-1221 et seq. We hold that the Judge and the courtroom clerk are protected by judicial immunity, that McAllister failed to show that the District personnel had a duty to discover and correct the Judge's sentencing error, and that § 1-1221 does not apply under the circumstances of this case. Therefore, we affirm.

I.

McAllister was indicted on August 17, 1988, for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, destruction of property, first-degree theft, and receiving stolen property. He pleaded guilty to attempted unauthorized use of a motor vehicle ("UUV") which, pursuant to D.C. Code § 22-103, carried a maximum penalty of one year. However, on the Order which the Judge later signed, the courtroom clerk recorded a sentence of "time not to exceed five years." McAllister had served two years and 329 days before the mistake was brought to the attention of the sentencing Judge who corrected it immediately, thus permitting McAllister's release.

II.

Scope of Review

The trial court may enter summary judgment if, construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, it determines (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact, and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Nader v. de Toledano, 408 A.2d 31, 41 (D.C. 1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1078, 62 L. Ed. 2d 761, 100 S. Ct. 1028 (1980); Super. Ct. Civ. R. 56 (c) (1993). On appeal, we conduct our own review of the record to determine whether the trial court properly applied those standards. West End Tenants Ass'n v. George Washington Univ., 640 A.3d 718, 725 (D.C. 1994).

III.

Discussion

Judicial Immunity *fn1

It is well settled that Judges are immune from liability "for acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction." Cunningham v. District of Columbia, 584 A.2d 573, 576 (D.C. 1990) (citation omitted) (act is "judicial" if a Judge typically performs it and the affected parties dealt with the Judge in his or her judicial capacity). The acts of which McAllister complains are integral parts of the judicial process, and the sentencing Judge unquestionably acted within proper judicial capacity and jurisdiction in sentencing McAllister. Therefore the sentencing Judge is immune from liability. See Cunningham, supra, 584 A.2d at 576 ("immunity applies however erroneous the act . . . and however injurious . . . its consequences. . .").

In the District of Columbia the immunity conferred on Judges has been extended to a variety of public officials and employees; *fn2 however, we have never considered whether a courtroom clerk should be clothed with this protection. *fn3 The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has, however, extended judicial immunity to courtroom clerks, holding:

If immunity were not extended to clerks, courts would face the danger that disappointed litigants, blocked by the doctrine of absolute immunity from suing the Judge directly would vent their wrath on ...


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